Match preview: Cross Keys v Newcastle Falcons

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Friday 1 February 2013 – 7.00pm

Pandy Park, Crosskeys

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #6

 

The Falcons and Cross Keys will make a second attempt at playing their final pool match in the British & Irish Cup tomorrow night, following the half-foot of snow (at least) that covered much of south-eastern Wales two weeks ago causing a postponement from the o then riginal date.

 

Our cup campaign has so far seen the extremes of a half-century at home to Cross Keys and almost a century against Newport, and horror shows against the latter and Connacht Eagles.

 

We need just a win (or less, not sure how many points exactly and still haven’t looked into it) to be sure of a home quarter-final in April having struggled but eventually qualified for a second time against Ireland’s fourth province’s second team at KP last week.

 

Unfortunately since other games will not be played for another couple of weeks, it will be a while before we know the identity of our quarter-final opponents.

 

Many Falcons fans will not be able to hear the name Cross Keys RFC without thinking of one of our more unusual games of the professional era. It came 12 years ago in January 2001, in the final round of games in the European Shield (the second of the Challenge Cup’s titles, I believe).

 

On the Sunday of the game, Pandy Park was found to be waterlogged, and to prevent a delay, an alternative pitch was used, specifically a park pitch at a local college. No changing rooms, no seats for the fans huddled around the pitch, though some had the vantage point of a bandstand, it was sport at its most weird and wonderful.

 

As I found out when visiting Cross Keys last weekend (there was a LOT of snow), the rugby pitch backs onto a football pitch, presumably no football was played during this game I’m talking about.

 

The Falcons won the game 25-11 in front of an official crowd (probably a good word to describe the viewing mass) of 600. Internationals like Va’aiga Tuigamala, Gary Armstong, Stuart Grimes and Marius Hurter probably thought this kind of thing was in the past for them, at least while they were playing at the top level.

 

Armstrong was the Falcons’ only try-scorer, his crossing being converted by Dave Walder, who also slotted six penalties.

 

Cross Keys have been strong at home this season – from ten home games in the Welsh Premiership, only Pontypridd and Bedwas have left with a win, although Newport were triumphant away to their compatriots in this cup. The two Principality sides drew their return at Rodney Parade 27-27 three weeks ago.

 

That was our hosts’ last game, as they had a scheduled weekend off while our match against the Pirates was snowed off.

 

 

Jimmy Gopperth is in the team for the first time in 2013 after recovering from injury, and new signing Ollie Stedman starts too. Tom Catterick is at full-back despite having an apparent shocker against Connacht, James Fitzpatrick has not been completely banished and is on the bench alongside Joel Hodgson and James Hall, who has returned from suspension.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Andy Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 James Hudson, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ollie Stedman.

 

Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Richard Mayhew, 19 Chris York, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 James Fitzpatrick

 

 

I’m really looking forward to this game, in Cross Keys a week past Sunday everyone there was really friendly, from the bar staff at the club, the captain and coach who we chatted to, and everyone else who was around, to the barman at the nearby hotel. I’ll be paying him back by enjoying some more of his hospitality tomorrow night – can’t argue with £22.50 a night!

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

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Non-match reaction: Cross Keys P-P Newcastle Falcons

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Saturday 19 January 2013, 18.28
Swansea station, Swansea
First Great Western

So, as you will all know, the Falcons did not visit Cross Keys today due to the snow, the game being postponed until probably 1 February.

However, I’m thinking of heading up to Cross Keys tomorrow to have a look around, since myself and wor lass have still got our weekend in Wales, albeit starting today rather than last night.

We were supposed to stay with my godparents near Swansea last night before heading for Cardiff this morning. Fortunately, we’ve been able to visit them this afternoon.

That put paid to any quick thoughts I had at lunchtime of going to the Cardiff Blues v Sale game this afternoon. Still, had a great time over in Swansea.

Tonight will be only the second night I’ve ever spent in Cardiff. The previous was THE night – Millennium Eve, after seeing in Y2K at the Millennium Stadium where the Manic Street Preachers were playing.

Thankfully tomorrow I’ll not wake up on a cold laminate floor in a student house with a stonking hangover. Well, at least the place will be different.

As for tomorrow, hiking in the snow out in the Welsh countryside should be good – plus my boots should finally lose the mud they’ve had on since last year’s British Grand Prix.

As long as the trains are running up there, Cross Keys seems a good place to start: “At least two Falcons made it to Cross Keys this weekend.”

Maybe check out a possible hotel for the rearranged game, well, B&B, of which there seem to be two in the village, in case there is no way to get back to London. I really want to go to this game, just another nice stop on our journey in second tier rugby.

So many times I’ve gone to Newcastle and said “Great weekend but the rugby really put a downer on it.” No such problems this season – unless we lose in the playoff semis!

Good to just enjoy some chilling in Wales. Bring on the rarebit!

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Newcastle Falcons 16-6 Connacht Eagles

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Saturday 12 January 2013 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #5

Well, what to make of that scoreline? I guess it would be a lot easier if I’d been at the game. Most people seem to agree that the Falcons did not perform well, some even going as far as saying some of the backs played themselves out of our future, but the conclusions differ.

In the run-up to the game I was hoping that the scoreboard, almost embarrassed in the Newport home game, would tick over the 99 mark, after all this week most of Connnacht’s rugby interests will have been focused on their first team’s Heineken Cup game at Harlequins that also took place yesterday.

Following the first half on Twitter while watching ‘Africa’ on the iPlayer, and the second half while walking to Covent Garden to meet wor lass and her friends after they’d been to the ballet, I could not believe the continued low scoreline.

It seems the Eagles defended very well and all credit to them for that, as if we did indeed dominate possession and territory then its difficult to defend for almost 80 minutes. Connacht appear to have improved a lot since our bonus-point win in Athlone back in October, though it is said that they drafted in some more senior players for the KP game yesterday.

So what to conclude? Some believe that this is further evidence that we are still not ready to compete in the Premiership, with poor decision-making and execution. It doesn’t back up the plan to play attractive rugby.

However, others have pointed out that this was a cup pool match, and we have this and next week at Cross Keys to finish the experimenting before firing into the final months of the Championship, where we have been promised a better and more settled team. Of course the Falcons did also win the game and are now definitely in the quarter-finals. Unless Warren Fury is cup-tied.

We do have to remember that some of the players in the backs have played very little rugby this season – Fitzpatrick, Luveniyali, Higgins – and there is a reason for that. Someone on Twitter suggested that Luvey is the worst player they’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I’d go that far (surely he’s not worse than Grant Anderson?) but I haven’t been impressed so far.

I’m not sure we’ll see any of those three at KP next season. Fitzy maybe, I quite like him.

The crowd seems to have been quite low – someone on the internet offered the famous forfeit of showing their backside in Fenwick’s window if there were actually 3,800 at KP. Personally, I’ll wait until I hear the Queen shout “Wey aye man”.

Perhaps there are reasons for that, such as season ticket holders catching up on other things after Christmas rather than standing out in the cold watching us play a reserve team. But then if they thought they would see a display of strong, attacking rugby, they probably would have been more inclined to come.

I guess we’ll see at the Pirates game.

As for now, personally I’m looking forward to a weekend in Wales next weekend for the Cross Keys game. The small size of the village means booking a hotel in Cardiff, and the last time I slept there was on my cousin’s wooden floor on Millennium Eve. Looking forward to not waking up with sore ribs to go along with a sore head this time.

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match preview: Newcastle Falcons v Connacht Eagles

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Saturday 12 January 2013 – 3.00pm

Kingston Park, Newcastle

British & Irish Cup Pool 4 #5

 

The Falcons have a second chance to secure qualification for the British & Irish Cup quarter-finals tomorrow, after a two-point deduction left us ten points ahead of Newport at the top of pool four.

 

In reality though, it would still take some extreme results to knock the Falcons off top spot. Tomorrow third-placed Connacht Eagles visit KP before our visit to Cross Keys wraps up the group stage next Saturday.

 

Connacht’s second string are out of the race for a place in the quarter-finals, although they could still finish second as only three points separate Newport in second spot from Cross Keys on the bottom.

 

Having taken a bonus point from their opening pool game in Newport, Connacht were downed by the Falcons 3-34 in Athlone of course back in October. The Eagles’ December double-header against Cross Keys went with home advantage, the Welsh side winning 17-12 at home before Connacht got the four points back in Ireland with a 31-16 victory.

 

The latter success was achieved despite Connacht losing prop Rodney Ah You to a red card after less than a 20 minutes. Tadhg Leader scored a try to add to 16 points with the boot, and Eoghan Grace and Kevin O’Byrne also crossed.

 

As you probably know or at least expect, tomorrow will be the first time that Connacht’s reserves have visited KP, but their first team’s last visit in December 2007 was a big day in the Falcons’ history, and not a little hairy – it was Carl Hayman’s home debut.

 

In front of almost seven and half thousand fans, the Falcons avenged the previous week’s European Challenge Cup loss in Galway with a 39-0 win. Tim Visser, Mathew Tait and Jonny Wilkinson scored tries along with replacements Toby Flood and Ollie Phillips. It’s amazing to look at the team that day and think about how many good players we had back in John Fletcher’s time:

 

T May, T Visser, M Tait, J Noon (c), J Rudd, J Wilkinson, L Dickson, J McDonnell, M Thompson, C Hayman, A Perry, M Sorenson, G Parling, B Woods, R Winter. Replacements: A Long, J Golding, S Tomes, B Wilson, J Grindal, T Flood, O Phillips.

 

 

Previous to that, at the end of March 2006 the Irish side came to Newcastle in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, and in his first full season in the senior team Toby Flood played a blinder to send the Falcons into the last four. Noah scored 15 points including a try, while Mike McCarthy was the other try-scorer in a 20-3 win for a team that included Matthew Burke and Mark Mayerhofler, and was captained by Colin Charvis.

 

 

Tom Catterick makes his first start in a while tomorrow alongside Luke Fielden and Andy Higgins in the back three, and Waisea Luveniyali and Warren Fury form the half-back partnership. Scott MacLeod gets a start as James Hudson drops to the bench, and captain Will Welch makes a first start in a couple of months after injury. James Fitzpatrick makes a rare appearance in the centres.

 

Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Andrew Higgins, 10 Waisea Luveniyali, 9 Warren Fury, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Richard Mayhew.

 

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 James Hudson, 19 Chris York, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Alex Crockett

 
It has been mentioned that this team looks set up to score tries and with a quick back three there is that possibility. Dean Richards has said that there is no chance of a let-up in this cup match and a win of any kind will definitely secure  quarter-final place, so there is every reason to believe that the feel-good factor will continue following last night’s presentation of the club’s vision.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Match reaction: Doncaster Knights 10-28 Newcastle Falcons

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Tuesday 1 January 2013 – 2.30pm
Castle Park, Doncaster
RFU Championship #13

Just skimming around the unoffy message board before I write this, there seems the justified discontent after the London Scottish game is continuing.

It’s understandable that people want us to put 50 points on the team at the bottom of the table.

But personally I think today’s performance was so much better than last time out.

We played the windy conditions well, dominated up front and used the backs at the right times. The boot was used far more sparingly and intelligently for the most part.

Yes we may have hoped to score more points but we were by a mile the more threatening team and bar some errors could have scored more.

I am told Ryan Shortland was very much infield when he had a try chalked off for a foot in touch too.

We seemed to be doing the right things even if they didn’t always come off, and that is not something we could say after Scottish.

The Falcons pack had Doncaster’s scrum on toast and Kieran Brookes was completely outplayed by Jonny Golding before sadly retiring due to what is apparently a broken collarbone.

Although Zach Kibirige had limited opportunities with the ball, both of his tries were remarkable for the fact that in times past they might not have been scored, at least in the way they were.

For the first he chased Luke Fielden’s kick even though Luke looked favourite to get to it first, and was rewarded as the ball went just out of the reach of Fielden and a defender. Such commitment and heart was not always evident before Gary Gold’s time.

The second, a beautiful race down the wing, had me thinking back to Tom Biggs and Charlie Amesbury. The latter would have changed direction to try to get tackled, the former would never have even got the ball.

Beyond these positives there is obviously a lot to work on – converting domination into points primarily.

But I am thinking again that we are on the right track and that as long as we keep playing intelligently, practice will make perfect come the play-offs.

Finally, Doncaster’s ground is lovely, blending new and modern facilities well with the feel of a traditional rugby club. Everybody was friendly, the beer was cheap (for a rugby ground), the atmosphere was good.

Oh, and the cow pie was quite something. Compared to the mass-produced and processed burgers and hot dogs at most grounds, the steak was good quality and tasted excellent.

As much as I want us to get back to the Premiership, if the season goes as we hope, I will miss places like Doncaster. Roll on Cross Keys!

Thanks finally to the Geordie doctor and his son who happily shared taxis to and from the ground with myself, wor lass and Ruck despite not knowing us from Rob Andrew. #falconsfamily in action.

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)